Saturday, March 22, 2008
Orange County Register
"I'm sure," said Barack Obama in that sonorous baritone that makes his drive-thru order for a Big Mac, fries and strawberry shake sound profound, "many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed."
Well, yes. But not many of us have heard remarks from our pastors, priests or rabbis that are stark, staring, out-of-his-tree, flown-the-coop nuts. Unlike Bill Clinton, whose legions of "spiritual advisers" at the height of his Monica troubles outnumbered the U.S. diplomatic corps, Sen. Obama has had just one spiritual adviser his entire adult life: the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, two-decade pastor to the president presumptive. The Rev. Wright believes that AIDS was created by the government of the United States – and not as a cure for the common cold that went tragically awry and had to be covered up by Karl Rove, but for the explicit purpose of killing millions of its own citizens. The government has never come clean about this, but the Rev. Wright knows the truth. "The government lied," he told his flock, "about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. The government lied."
Does he really believe this? If so, he's crazy, and no sane person would sit through his gibberish, certainly not for 20 years.
Or is he just saying it? In which case, he's profoundly wicked. If you understand that AIDS is spread by sexual promiscuity and drug use, you'll know that it's within your power to protect yourself from the disease. If you're told that it's just whitey's latest cunning plot to stick it to you, well, hey, it's out of your hands, nothing to do with you or your behavior.
Before the speech, Slate's Mickey Kaus advised Sen. Obama to give us a Sister Souljah moment: "There are plenty of potential Souljahs still around: Race preferences. Out-of-wedlock births," he wrote. "But most of all the victim mentality that tells African Americans (in the fashion of the Rev. Wright's most infamous sermons) that the important forces shaping their lives are the evil actions of others, of other races." Indeed. It makes no difference to white folks when a black pastor inflicts kook genocide theories on his congregation: The victims are those in his audience who make the mistake of believing him.
The Rev. Wright has a hugely popular church with over 8,000 members, and Sen. Obama assures us that his pastor does good work by "reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS." But maybe he wouldn't have to quite so much "reaching out" to do and maybe there wouldn't be quite so many black Americans "suffering from HIV/AIDS" if the likes of Wright weren't peddling lunatic conspiracy theories to his own community.
Nonetheless, last week, Barack Obama told America: "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community."
What is the plain meaning of that sentence? That the paranoid racist ravings of Jeremiah Wright are now part of the established cultural discourse in African American life and thus must command our respect? Let us take the senator at his word when he says he chanced not to be present on AIDS Conspiracy Sunday, or God Damn America Sunday, or US of KKKA Sunday, or the Post-9/11 America-Had-It-Coming Memorial Service. A conventional pol would have said he was shocked, shocked to discover Afrocentric black liberation theology going on at his church. But Obama did something far more audacious: Instead of distancing himself from his pastor, he attempted to close the gap between Wright and the rest of the country, arguing, in effect, that the guy is not just his crazy uncle but America's, too.
To do this, Obama promoted a false equivalence. "I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother," he continued. "A woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street." Well, according to the way he tells it in his book, it was one specific black man on her bus, and he wasn't merely "passing by."
When the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan dumped some of his closest Cabinet colleagues to extricate himself from a political crisis, the Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe responded: "Greater love hath no man than to lay down his friends for his life." In Philadelphia, Sen. Obama topped that: Greater love hath no man than to lay down his grandma for his life.
In the days that followed, Obama's interviewers seemed grateful for the introduction of a less-complicated villain: Unlike the Rev. Wright, she doesn't want God to damn America for being no better than al-Qaida, but on the other hand she did once express her apprehension about a black man on the bus. It's surely only a matter of days before Keith Olbermann on MSNBC names her his "Worst Person In The World". Asked about the sin of racism beating within Grandma's breast, Obama said on TV that "she's a typical white person."
Which doesn't sound like the sort of thing the supposed "post-racial" candidate ought to be saying, but let that pass. How "typically white" is Obama's grandmother? She is the woman who raised him – that's to say, she brought up a black grandchild and loved him unconditionally. Burning deep down inside, she may nurse a secret desire to be Simon Legree or Bull Connor, but it doesn't seem very likely. She does then, in her own flawed way, represent a post-racial America.
But what of her equivalent (as Obama's speech had it)? Is Jeremiah Wright a "typical black person"? One would hope not. A century and a half after the Civil War, two generations after the Civil Rights Act, the Rev. Wright promotes victimization theses more insane than anything promulgated at the height of slavery or the Jim Crow era. You can understand why Obama is so anxious to meet with President Ahmadinejad, a man who denies the last Holocaust even as he plans the next one. Such a summit would be easy listening after the more robust sermons of Jeremiah Wright.
But America is not Ahmadinejad's Iran. Free societies live in truth, not in the fever swamps of Jeremiah Wright. The pastor is a fraud, a crock, a mountebank – for, if this truly were a country whose government invented a virus to kill black people, why would they leave him walking around to expose the truth? It is Barack Obama's choice to entrust his daughters to the spiritual care of such a man for their entire lives, but in Philadelphia the senator attempted to universalize his peculiar judgment – to claim that, given America's history, it would be unreasonable to expect black men of Jeremiah Wright's generation not to peddle hateful and damaging lunacies. Isn't that – what's the word? – racist? So much for the post-racial candidate.